Ma­jor break­through in the quest for an Ebola vac­cine

The China Post - - LIFE - BY MA­RI­ETTE LE ROUX

An Ebola test vac­cine pro­vided blan­ket pro­tec­tion in a field trial in Guinea, re­searchers said Fri­day, pos­si­bly herald­ing “the be­gin­ning of the end” for the dev­as­tat­ing West African out­break that has killed thou­sands.

The serum was 100 per­cent ef­fec­tive af­ter a week in more than 7,600 peo­ple in­oc­u­lated, ac­cord­ing to re­sults pub­lished in The Lancet med­i­cal jour­nal and hailed as “ex­tremely promis­ing” by World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) chief Mar­garet Chan.

The world was “on the verge of an ef­fec­tive Ebola vac­cine,” the U.N.’s health agency said in a state­ment.

“The ini­tial re­sults of the study show that the vac­cine can ef­fec­tively con­tain the fur­ther spread of the Ebola virus,” said the Univer­sity of Bern, which con­trib­uted to the re­search.

Though en­cour­ag­ing, the re­sults are “in­terim” and the vac­cine will not be­come im­me­di­ately avail­able as a com­mu­nity-wide Ebola shield, ex­perts cau­tioned.

About 28,000 peo­ple have been in­fected in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since late 2013, ac­cord­ing to the WHO. Nearly half have died, but there is thought to be a large un­der­count of cases and deaths.

Hav­ing brought an al­ready frag­ile health sec­tor to its knees, and driv­ing out much-needed in­vest­ment, the out­break has started wind­ing down but is not over.

Seven cases were con­firmed the week end­ing in July 26 — four in Guinea and three in Sierra Leone — the low­est weekly to­tal for over a year.

But even a sin­gle un­de­tected case can spark a flareup — the virus spreads through di­rect con­tact with body flu­ids.

More Tests Re­quired

One of two lead­ing vac­cine can­di­dates, VSV-ZEBOV has been de­vel­oped and tested in a superquick 12 months, com­pared to the nor­mal decade or more. Ebola has no li­censed cure or treat­ment.

The trial, backed by drug firm Merck, the WHO and the gov­ern­ments of Canada, Nor­way and Guinea, saw 4,123 high-risk peo­ple vac­ci­nated im­me­di­ately af­ter some­one close to the trial par­tic­i­pant fell ill with the hem­or­rhagic fever.

None of the vac­ci­nated group caught the virus.

A sec­ond, com­par­i­son group of 3,528 peo­ple re­ceived the vac­cine three weeks af­ter po­ten­tial ex­po­sure. Six­teen of them con­tracted the virus while un­pro­tected, said the study, but by day six af­ter in­oc­u­la­tion, ev­ery­one in the sec­ond group was also fully shielded.

“In­deed, no vac­cine de­vel­oped symp­toms more than six days af­ter vac­ci­na­tion, ir­re­spec­tive of whether vac­ci­na­tion was im­me­di­ate or de­layed,” said the study pa­per.

The vac­cine was safe, with no se­ri­ous side-ef­fects, ac­cord­ing to the study. Not known is how long the pro­tec­tion lasts, or the vac­cine’s ef­fect on preg­nant women and chil­dren — high risk groups not in­cluded in the trial.

The WHO’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Guinea, Mo­hammed Bel­hocine, ad­vised cau­tion, how­ever. “Given the dan­ger of this epi­demic, this is just a par­tial re­sult. We should celebrate it, but must not al­low our guard to drop,” he said.

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